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Cyprus talks enter crucial security phase

January 12, 2017

Top international diplomats have arrived in Geneva as talks seeking to reunify the divided island of Cyprus enter a crucial stage. UN chief Antonio Guterres said the talks would go on as long as necessary.

Zypern Friedensgespräche Demonstration für Frieden
Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Hatzistavrou

Speaking in Geneva on Thursday, the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was hoping for a breakthrough in the decadeslong conflict. The EU island has been divided between a Turkish north and an internationally recognized Greek south since 1974.

"We are facing so many situations of disaster that we badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol hope of the beginning of 2017," Guterres said on Thursday, flanked by Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

The foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and the UK also attended the Geneva meeting about the divided island. The three countries served as guarantor powers for Cyprus' independence from Britain in 1960. Turkey sent in troops to claim Cyprus' north in 1974, after a military junta in Athens orchestrated a coup to join the island with Greece.

Zypern Grenze
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Karadjias

Guterres said a deal was "close," but warned against expecting "miracles" from the Geneva talks. He also stressed that the talks would continue as long as necessary.

"I really think that, without overdramatizing what is happening in Geneva, that this is the very last chance to see (a solution for) the island being imposed in a normal way," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said before departing to Geneva on Wednesday night.

Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Akinci have expressed optimism that peace talks that began in 2014 could yield a peace agreement and solve one of the world's most intractable geopolitical issues.

The two sides have overcome issues in many areas, leaving the key sticking points of territorial boundaries and security to the end. The arrival of Guterres follows three days of intense bilateral talks.

Morphou as breaking point

Inter-communal violence and the Turkish intervention displaced tens of thousands of people, mostly Greeks. While Turks made up about 18 percent of the population in 1974, the Turkish military intervention left them in control of about a third of the island's territory.  

Karte Zypern NEUSTAND Januar 2017 ENGLISCH

On Wednesday, Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides presented maps describing the borders of a reunified country for the first time, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide said. However, redrawing the border could displace some communities from their current homes - some for the second time since the 1970s.

A major sticking point remains Morphou, a town currently in the Turkish-controlled north. Anastasiades has said there can be no deal without a full return of the town, while Akinci has said he would not agree to a deal that would uproot 18,000 Turkish Cypriot residents for a second time in 42 years.

Ankara maintains massive military presence

The population transfer issue is pivotal, because each side needs to be able to return to their citizens with a deal that would be supported in a referendum.  A UN-backed referendum in 2004 to reunite the island was accepted by Turkish Cypriots hoping it would allow them to join the European Union, but it was rejected by Greek Cypriots.

The economic and security benefits of EU membership have been a major motivation for the internationally isolated Turkish half to rejoin with the Greek part of the island.

Another major stumbling block has been security. Turkey has about 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots want Turkey to maintain its military presence on the island, something the Greek side flatly rejects.

To increase its leverage, the Turkish Cypriots have sought to pool the territory and security issues during the negotiations. The Greek Cypriots have meanwhile pushed for a territorial agreement, followed by a separate security settlement. Britain, Turkey, and Greece are to negotiate a future security pact on the island.

cw,,dj/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)